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State Court Sides With Louisiana Teachers Fired After Katrina

Jason Coleman
Creative Commons
The water line showed prominently on New Orleans Abramson Senior High School after Katrina. All OPSB teachers were fired within a few months of the flood.

Last week a state court of appeals ruled in favor of thousands of teachers who were fired just after Hurricane Katrina.

The court said more than 7,000 teachers were wrongly terminated, denied due legal process, and should have been considered for rehiring as schools reopened. The ruling, if upheld, would award the teachers years in back pay and benefits, though it’s not clear who would pay. The Orleans Parish School Board and the state have the option to appeal.

To get more insight on the ruling, its history and local impact, WWNO News Director Eve Troeh sat down with education writer Sarah Carr of the Hechinger Report. They started by going back to 2005, when the teachers were dismissed.

Carr says the case started within a month of the hurricane, when the school board decided to put employees on unpaid leave. Their termination took effect in 2006.

She says opinions remain divergent around the city and state over why the teachers were fired. One on hand there are "folks who say this was an absolutely necessary decision." With the city empty, that camp maintains there were no jobs to have and no way to know when the school system would again function.

Others, says Carr, maintain the mass termination was "all part of a plan that was formed very quickly to redesign the school system" because the school board and teachers' union were seen as standing in the way of major reform.

Carr says we will probably know in a matter of weeks or months whether the school board and/or the state will appeal the ruling. That could drag the case out for years longer, and she says it's unclear how many former OPSB employees would qualify for the several years of back pay and benefits called for by the court ruling.

"Would charter schools be responsible? Would the state be responsible? I just don't know where the buck would stop or how that might be worked out," Carr says.

One question Carr is often asked, and has no viable answer to give: How many of the fired OPSB teachers eventually came back to work in classrooms around New Orleans? She says if there's sound information on that, she hasn't been able to find it.